6 Nights of Violence Reveal Inequalities in Sweden

For a sixth night in a row, youths in the suburbs of the Swedish capital of Stockholm have set cars and property, including schools and a restaurant, on fire and thrown rocks at police. The violence has occurred mostly in the city’s northwestern and southwestern suburbs, where many residents are immigrants and has spread to other cities including Gothenburg and Malmo.

It was apparently set off after a 69-year-old man with a machete was shot dead by policemen earlier this month. Televised images of cars in flames have “shocked a country proud of its reputation for social justice as well as its hospitality towards refugees from war and repression,” says the Guardian.

Historically a country that “takes care of its people” (as a Swedish student who was studying at my college put it), the Scandinavian country has been reducing the role of its famously generous welfare state since the 1990s to be (according to some) more “efficient” and to give citizens more control over their finances. But the result has been an alarming growth of inequality, including high youth unemployment.

More than 5.6 million people under the age of 25 are unemployed in the European Union. A disproportionately large number are in EU countries whose economies have struggled to pull themselves out of the debt crisis and where social services have been severely reduced. 60 percent of young people in Greece are unemployed, 56 percent in Spain and 24 percent in Sweden, four times the country’s overall unemployment rate of 8 percent.

Youth unemployment is not only a problem in the EU. Almost half the world’s youth live in South Asia, the Middle East and African. Around the globe, an estimated 75 million 15-to-24-year olds are looking for work.

Rising Inequality in Sweden

Average living standards in Sweden still remain among the highest in Europe, but disparities are not hard to find. About 15 percent of Sweden’s population is foreign-born and the jobless rate for them is 16 percent, vs. a rate of 6 percent for native Swedes.

As in other European countries including the Netherlands and Greece, the rise of anti-immigrant sentiment has occurred at the same time as right-learning political parties have gained more support, including seats in Parliament. Sweden’s anti-immigrant Swedish Democrats are now third in the polls for a general election next year.

Much of Sweden’s immigrant population is from other Nordic countries, but the debate about immigrants is mostly about asylum-seekers. According to United Nations figures, Sweden is the fourth in the world in the number of asylum seekers and the second relative to its population. Of the 103,000 who immigrated to Sweden last year, 43,900 were asylum seekers and nearly half refugees from Syria, Afghanistan or Somalia; they are given temporary residency at the least.

Swedish employers and unions say the education system is at least part of the problem:

“About 20-25% do not get adequate school results. Of those who do, many choose an education where there are more graduates than are needed. We often cite education in such sectors as tourism, media and professions such as hairdressers as examples,” Christer Aagren, Deputy-Director of the Swedish Employer’s Union told the newspaper Aftonbladet recently.

Concerned that the “younger generation may become disillusioned with the European project,” German leaders have been taking the lead to address youth unemployment acros the EU. Under the plan, a financial institution will be set up to assist those under 25 in Portugal (where youth unemployment is 42 percent) with job training. Germany will also seek to assist Spain in building a dual-track vocational system that would allow people to gain qualifications through working and studying; the Netherlands and Austria have a similar apprentice-based approach.

Are Swedish Police Singling Out Darker-Skinned Immigrants?

Some have raised doubts if what works in Germany (whose economy is driven by manufacturing) will in countries which are more service-oriented. Issues of race and inequality certainly remain. As Rami Al-khamisi, co-founder of Megafonen, which works for social change in Sweden’s suburbs, says in the Guardian, Sweden is a ”society that is becoming increasingly divided and where the gaps, both socially and economically, are becoming larger. And the people out here are being hit the hardest … we have institutional racism.”

Stockholm’s police have already been under scrutiny this year after they were allegedly charged with picking out darker-skinned immigrants for identity checks on public transportation.

According to Tord Strannefors of Sweden’s National Public Employment Service (Arbetsförmedlingen), every fifth immigrant youth lacks high school qualifications. Young job-seekers interviewed by The Local report being discriminated against due to their background. As one individual sums up what can only be a growing dilemma for a Europe that has yet to fully embrace what it means to be a multicultural society:

“Sweden has great ambitions for integration. But there is nothing in practice. Employers must get accustomed to having people with different backgrounds in the workplace.”



Photo via Megafonen/Flickr


Elizabeth Koenig
Elizabeth Koenig4 years ago

I'm afraid this story says more about Muslim violence--which is mushrooming across Europe--than it does about inequality in Sweden

Katheleen Sauret
kathleen Sauret4 years ago

I am an American living in Sweden for 6 years with a Swede. In my opinion Sweden bit into more than it could chew. They allowed far too many political refugees in with no concrete plan of how to integrate them or how to employ them.

I feel now that most of the wars are over that they should go back to their home countries instead of living off the system. One must understand that in Sweden if you receive public aid you live as the rest of the Swedish population. It's not like in the USA where you are poverty stricken.

One problem is Sweden itself. It is not easy for an immigrant to be hired in Sweden. I still don't have a job here (I do work half of the year in Denmark).. I can imagine what it is like for someone with darker skin to obtain legal employment. I have met political refugees with training and professional jobs, such as doctors, teachers, engineers. Sweden does not accept their education and you are required to go back to school here. They make it almost impossible to get a job.

But these burnings and protests need to be stopped. I think if these immigrants display such actions they should be promptly deported. The Swedes do not deserve this. In my opinion, they have been truly taken advantage of.

There are just too many issues to discuss here. I feel sorry for my Swede and other Swedes that get taxed like crazy to support the refugees, while programs are being taken away. Don't get me wrong I have met a lot of fantastic immigrants. It's the few that

Leia P.
Leia P.4 years ago


Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago

There are always people that will say nasty things, immigrant or not. I've seen many of them, white, black, asian that say nasty things and they were born here. I didn't like the leech thing that you said, because I simply think people aren't here to screw the system. Yes..no one in my family had any of that either, but we have it now, so why shouldn't they have the freebies we have :)

Mary H.
Mary H.4 years ago

So "inequalities" justify violence? Just how far will they go with this? Children from one-parent homes have much higher rates of suicide, crime, low grades, etc. Will they now require all single parents to get married? Or all married parents to divorce?

Linda McKellar
Past Member 4 years ago

Hi Vicki - I have absolutely nothing against immigrants UNLESS they are simply here to take advantage. Of course the entire world is full of immigrants. My family was one in Canada in the 1700's but they didn't get free land, free health care, all kinds of benefits, also came from abject poverty & they were VERY grateful for the chance at a new start. We weren't nice to the aboriginals either but we did help build our country & worked hard. Many who now come do so simply to take advantage of our generosity. People like the woman I described who was here to collect welfare for her husband's war chest is not the kind of people we want or need. She had no intention of giving, just taking. If she was a true refugee I would welcome her with open arms. I have also been told in a public park that I was a slut for wearing western clothes! Hello? A 63 yr old slut? I should be so lucky! I love the diversity of new immigrants but they must contribute. That's just how it is.

Rose Becke4 years ago


Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago

@Linda: To Canada in your and my case, most people are immigrants. Even natives lived in different places thousands of years ago, they came from China and other regions in the area.

Vicky P.
Vicky P4 years ago

sad..wow, Linda, that's just ignorant, who says you have anymore right to live in your country than they do. No one owns a country despite what the government has told you over the years, people immigrated to the US and to other countries, so don't think so high of yourself just because you happen to be born in the right country.

Liliana Garcia
Liliana G4 years ago

This is the incident, the man was Portuguese, (apparently not Muslim):
"The galvanizing event seems to have been the shooting of an elderly man by police the Monday before last (according to the BBC). The Independent describes what happened.
[According to his brother-in-law, the man] had been eating in a restaurant, and when he returned home, he was confronted by a gang of youths, who he threatened with a knife.
When the police knocked on his door, he mistook them for the youths and didn't respond. Believing the woman in the apartment - his wife - to be in danger, the police, his brother-in-law maintains, shot him.
The man, whose name still has not been made public, was a Portuguese immigrant who'd lived in the country for 30 years. According to The Local, a Swedish English-language newspaper, the protests began on Sunday night in Husby, the same neighborhood north of the city center where he was shot."